La Salle University, dedicated in the traditions
of the Christian Brothers to excellence in
teaching and to concern for both ultimate values
and for the individual values of its students, is
Explorers in the Pros
The Atlantic 10 Conference has developed
countless future professional basketball players.
Coach Giannini highlights the former Explorers
that have gone on to play Pro Ball...
THE IMPORTANCE OF DEFENSE
The importance of defense cannot be understated. So much
attention is given to individual player statistics like
points and assists, but it's important to realize that,
when you evaluate players, half of the game of
basketball is spent on the defensive end -- offense is
only half of it.
We use the old cliche -- especially at the end of close
games if the score is tied or you have the lead -- that
'if the other team doesn't score, you can't possibly
I know football coaches often aspire for shutouts with
the philosophy that it's impossible to lose if the other
team doesn't score. In basketball it's not realistic to
shut someone out, but it is realistic to shut someone
out for stretches of time. For example, if you can shut
someone out for four to six consecutive possessions,
then you have a good chance of really taking control of
that basketball game.
At the championship level I have never seen a
championship caliber team that was not strong
defensively. There is really no choice for a team that
wants to win a championship but to excel defensively.
There are at least three different defensive
philosophies. Which one a coach uses depends upon what
that coach believes in, what he or she feels most
comfortable teaching, and which philosophy suits the
In no particular order, the first one would be a solid
approach to defense where you want to keep the ball out
of the paint and you want to have a lot of your
defenders off the ball in the help area. Coaches call
the help area 'the lane area' and many solid teams will
have their defenders on the weak side, all the way in
the middle of the lane on the help line. That creates a
situation where there are a lot of bodies in the paint
and even if someone were to drive or get the ball into
the post, it is really difficult to score because there
are so many bodies in there.
The philosophy of a solid defense is not to allow
lay-ups or easy shots.
That defensive philosophy was really the most prevalent
in the 70s and early 80s and there are still many
successful teams that use those principles. The
development in basketball that has changed the
popularity of that defense is the 3-point shot. When you
have people off the ball in the lane, it means that a
skip pass or a kickout -- when the ball is passed out of
the paint back to the perimeter -- to the perimeter or a
quick ball reversal could result in a very open 3-point
shot. So a lot of coaches have come up with different
ways of trying to defend the 3-point shot.
Another defensive philosophy is to apply great pressure
to create turnovers and disrupt the offense.
The philosophy of a pressure defense is not to allow the
offense to do what they want to do. Every coach has
certain plays or patterns that they believe will work
and that their teams practice every day. A pressure
defense attempts to stop teams from running their
offense. That's a very frustrating thing to play
against. It often results in poor shots by the offense
and it also results in more turnovers by the offense.
The downfall in playing pressure defense is when you
play a team which is an excellent ball handling and
passing team that can handle the pressure. In those
situations your defense is further extended, usually
outside the arc, or you're trapping. When you're not
able to force the turnovers and they're able to
penetrate or run their offense, usually they get a
pretty good shot because there's less help in the lane.
The third defensive philosophy that a coach might have
is one of multiple defenses, where you play a lot of
different defenses for two purposes.
First, to find the defense that exploits the other teams
And secondly, to disguise and change defenses so that it
is very difficult for the offense to recognize what you
I think if you look at most teams, they'll espouse one
of those philosophies: either a very solid defense that
prevents easy shots from the opposition, or a pressure
defense that tries to disrupt the offense and create
turnovers, or a multiple defensive team that really
tries to exploit the weakness of the opposition and even
confuse the opposition.
Ball reversal is when the ball goes from one side of the
court to the other side of the court. Ball reversal is
very important for a number of reasons.
First, moving the ball requires the defense to move.
Whenever the defense has to move a lot, the chance of
someone missing an assignment or missing a movement is
better. Coaches say that ball movement causes defenses
to break down. If you move the ball enough, sooner or
later a defensive player isn't going to react and
someone's going to get an open shot.
The other reason ball reversal is important is in terms
of post play. If someone is trying to keep the ball out
of the post and fronting a post player on one side, if
the ball is quickly reversed, that means the offensive
post player has a great chance to have that defender on
his back and be wide open on the other side of the
Secondly, ball reversal really allows people to do a lot
of screening. Most screening in basketball is done away
from the ball, so when the ball is swung from one side
to the other side, you're able to really get a good
screening game going.
Ball reversal is something that is great offensively and
is something that pressure defenses especially want to
MAN TO MAN DEFENSE
The most common defense is the man-to-man. There has
actually been studies done that look at something called
the DER -- the defensive efficiency rating.
A defensive efficiency rating is 'the number of point
scored divided by the number of possessions'. A very
good defensive efficiency rating would be 0.75 or lower
-- that would be outstanding.
People have actually charted multiple games and looked
at which defenses have the best defensive efficiency
rating and man-to-man usually comes out the highest.
Now, there are some programs like Temple and Princeton
that play almost exclusively zone and are some of the
best defensive teams in the nation. Veteran coaches
often say that there are a lot of ways to skin a cat, so
there is no one way to be successful defensively;
however, the majority of very strong defenses teams are
strong in their man-to-man.
Where a man-to-man begins to pick up the offense varies
from team to team. A team like Arkansas likes to pick up
a full 94 feet. Other teams will only guard you from the
3-point arc and in. So man-to-man defenses will range
from 94 all the way down to 19 feet. Again that depends
upon whether you want to be solid and just try to stop
the other team from scoring or do you want to be more
aggressive and really disrupt the other team --
frustrate them -- and try to create turnovers.
MAN-TO-MAN VERSUS A ZONE DEFENSE
The choice between a man-to-man or a zone defense
depends on a coaches' philosophy, who they are playing,
as well as their personnel.
Right now in college basketball, most teams have one or
two zones defenses in their package; however, most
coaches like the man-to-man to be their primary defense.
Most coaches' experiences match what the facts show and
the facts show that overall the man-to-man defense is
However, a zone may be better for certain teams or
against certain teams or in certain situations.
Coaches will often use zones for two reasons.
The first reason would be if their man-to-man was not
The second reason is to simply change the defense and to
see how the offense reacts.
Coach Henson used to do something at Illinois that I
really like. During time-outs when the other team would
be setting up a offensive strategy clearly to go against
our man-to-man, he would change to zone. And we would
stay in a zone until the other teams scored. It was
interesting that many times we'd end up playing zone for
quite a while just because the other team was in a
comfort level against the man and really had to adjust
to playing against the zone.
I think a lot of coaches like to include a zone just to
be able to change up and see how the offense reacts.
There are some teams that are very good against the
man-to-man that are not good against the zone. So I
think it's important to have at least a couple different
defenses in your package, but most people really like
the man-to-man. Many coaches, including myself, also
believe that a better man-to-man defense also results in
a better zone defense. And the reason is: in a zone
defense, the person guarding the ball still has to stop
penetration, players in the lane still have to help when
the ball gets to the paint, and post defenders still
have to try to deny easy passes. Those are all
principles that are exercised in man-to-man defense, but
still have to be executed in the context of a zone
The majority of coaches want to have a strong man-to-man
and also feel that those principles will make their
zones better as well.
Personnel with also dictate what kind of defenses you
can play. For example, our team last year was very quick
and we could really play pressure defense. This year's
team often has a bigger lineup out there and physically
we are not well equipped to deny and trap people 30 or
40 feet from the basket. But we should be able to be a
much better solid defensive team where we have some
people in the lane and have bigger bodies that make it a
lot harder for other teams to get lay-ups and easy
Last year's team could force turnovers better and force
tempo better. This years team should be able to have a
better defensive field goal percentage and be a better
defensive rebounding team.
Personnel will also affect what kind of zones you play.
For example, last year's team was smaller and a 2-3 zone
was much better for us because it allowed us to keep
some more people in the paint to discourage big people
from getting the ball down low, but we could also close
out on 3-point shooters.
This year's team because we're bigger is a better 3-2 or
1-3-1 team. We just have longer arms and we can keep the
ball out of the high and low post a lot better without
having to put a lot of people in the paint.
THE 2-3 ZONE
The most difficult position in the 2-3 zone are the two
guards up front. They really have to cover 4 spots. They
have to cover the point, the two wings and the high
post. The back line people will give them some help with
the wing, but they can only do that temporarily.
For example, if one of the back line players in a 2-3
zone comes up to cover the wing, that means the baseline
is now wide open. If they throw the ball to the
baseline, that means your center has to leave the
basket, which leaves the post open. So there are a lot
of problems with bringing you back line players up in
the 2-3 zone. That's why our back line players come up
to cover the wings and then the guards will bump them
back to their original spots.
The guards really have to work extremely hard to cover
the two wings, the top of the KEY, as well as the high
post in the 2-3 zone. One guard must cover the hight
post while the other guard is covers the wing. As a
result there are usually 3 bigger players occupying the
2 blocks and the middle.
The 2-3 zone typically does a pretty good job of keeping
the ball out of the middle and forcing people to beat
you from the 3-point arc. If you're guards work
extremely hard and are extremely quick, you can contest
a lot of those 3-point shots and you have a very good
Ideally it's the defense that keeps the ball out of the
paint and the guards work hard enough to contest
THE 3-2 ZONE
The 3-2 zone is just the opposite. The two back line
players have to cover 4 spots and work extremely hard.
They have to cover the two corners and the two blocks,
so the two players on the back of a 2-3 zone have to
work extremely hard.
The strength of the 3-2 zone is covering the perimeter.
You really have five players outside of the lane at the
start of the possession, so you can get to the 3- point
arc pretty quickly.
The key to the 3-2 zone is I think is having a very big
player at the point who when the ball is on the wing,
can drop down and really discourage the ball from going
So the strength of a 3-2 zone is really being able to
cover the perimeter, but I do think that you need some
quickness from the two people on the back line and you
need a big player at the point to be able to drop down
and help at the post when the ball goes to the wing or
THE 1-3-1 ZONE
Probably the other zone of interest today is the 1-3-1.
The 1-3-1 is not played that often because I feel you
need very specialized personnel to play it well. If you
have long quick athletes, the 1-3-1 can be a devastating
The 1-3-1 -- unlike the 2-3 and 3-2 -- places the
defenders in passing lanes.
The point on a 1-3-1 and the 2 wings are literally in
the passing lanes trying to prevent ball movement in
addition to trying to contest shots. They're literally
trying to prevent passes. The wings are trying to
prevent the pass from what we call the guard spot, which
would be a spot off center above the 3-point arc to the
They have to have big long arms, be hard to pass over
and be quick enough to close out on the person from that
guard spot if they should they should threaten to shot.
The point has to prevent ball reversal. That person has
to be very big and be in the middle to discourage easy
ball reversal. He is positioned at the top of the key
with his arms extended.
So if you have very long quick athletes, who are hard to
pass around, it's simple hard to attack a 1-3-1. It's
very difficult to pass the ball against and if they are
quick enough to contest shots when people do get into
shooting position, you have an extremely hard defense to
THE MATCH-UP ZONE
The match-up zone is one of the most confusing, yet
simple, and difficult defenses to play against. If you
don't understand a match-up zone, it's very frustrating
to try to attack.
Basically a match-up zone in nothing more than a very
soft switching man-to-man.
It has defenders go to certain areas -- just like you do
in a zone -- but once you are in that area you have to
identify a person that you are covering and are
responsible for when they catch the ball. When the
offensive player moves, you then have to trade that
offensive player with another with one of your
It's very difficult to play against because there are a
lot of people in the paint, which makes it hard to score
off penetration or post play, but yet it's hard to get a
wide open 3-point shot, because people know who they are
responsible for and screening doesn't work as well
either because people switch on those screens.
The most successful offenses against the match-up simply
run their man-to-man offense and wait for two things.
They wait either for the defense to break down and miss
a switch or they wait until there is a real mismatch.
Because the defense is switching, you could end up with
a 6-10 player on your point guard or you could end up
with a very small player on one of your bigger players.
So the key to the match-up is to realize it's not a
zone, and nothing more than a soft switching man-to-man.
The best offense is to run your man-to-man offense
continuously and wait until either the defense breaks
down or until you have a tremendous mismatch.
THE BOX-AND-ONE ZONE
The box-and-one is a zone with 4 people and a man-to-man
on one player. This defense is almost always used when
the opposition has one great offensive player and
stopping that player is a key to the game.
When you play a box-and-one, there are usually other
players on the opposition who will get open shots. The
question is whether or not they can make it. The purpose
of the box-and-one is to stop the best player on the
other team when that player is really a dominate
offensive player and his or her team really revolves
around their ability to score.
It's not a good defense at all against a balanced
offensive team because the other 4 players can get some
open looks. The triangle and two is a 3 person zone with
a man-to-man against 2 outstanding offensive players.
These defenses often work extremely well at the high
school level, where there is often one or two
outstanding players that are the strength of the team.
And a box-and-one or a triangle-and-two can help you
focus on stopping those players.
When you play a box-and-one or traingle-and-two defense,
the man-to-man players never leave the person they're
guarding. You don't have to help, you don't have to
worry about anything else other than stopping that
At the college level, these defenses aren't used very
often because you have more good players on the court
and that 3 or 4 person zone will usually give up some
wide open jump shots. So when you're playing a team of 4
or 5 good offensive players, it just not a good real
sound philosophy. But at the high school level and
especially in situations where the other team has one of
two offensive players that are the most talented
individuals, they are very good options to go to.
THE FULL COURT PRESS VERSUS A HALF COURT PRESS
A full court press is clearly more aggressive. If you
are a team that would benefit by being aggressive in
terms of superior depth or superior quickness it makes a
lot of sense to press full court as much as you can. On
the other hand, as Pete Carill of Princeton often used
to say -- who had great teams, but were not extremely
quick: 'Why do I want to fast break and press when I
have slow players?
It's just the common sense of what's best for my
personnel. One of the difficult things about a full
court press is that if you are truly playing a good team
they will usually have good offensive players who pass
the ball pretty well. If your philosophy is to beat the
best teams on your schedule, the best teams usually
won't lose to a full court press. They'll pass well
enough and be able to score well enough where they can
hurt a press. So I'm not a big full court press person
because I've never seen the great teams make enough
mistakes to get beat against the full court press.
But if you are quicker, deeper or really have the talent
advantage, a full court press could assure you that you
can force enough mistakes and force enough possessions
in the game where talent will win out. When you have
superior talent or depth or quickness, the last thing
you want to do is play a 50 point game and a full court
press will often create enough turnovers and possessions
where you'll get the score into the 70s and 80s. And
depth and talent can really take the game over.
I favor more half court trapping, because when someone
passes out of a full court trap, the defense has to
cover a lot of ground to catch the ball and prevent a
In a half court situation, I think if someone passes out
of a trap, you don't have to recover as far to try to
get back into the play and prevent a lay-up. I think
half court trapping is a bit more conservative.
Sometimes its also more difficult to play against
because of the back court rule. If you trap someone
right past half court, they don't have the benefit of
being able to throw the ball behind them. So I
personally like the half court trap. I don't think you
need to cover as much ground, I don't think you need as
much quickness, I don't think you need as much depth and
sometimes it's even harder to play against because of
the back court rule.
DENYING THE BALL IN THE LAST MINUTES OF A CLOSE GAME
It's really critical for the offense to get the ball in
the hands of the best decision makers and foul shooters
at the end of a close game.
Defensively you want to do everything you can to prevent
that. But if they have good screens in their press
break, that could be difficult to do sometimes. Even if
you put your best defender on their best offensive
player, if that player gets 2 or 3 consecutive screens,
he's going to get the ball or you're going to have to
switch and probably have a bigger slower player on that
person and they're going to get the ball anyway.
So, late game offensive execution is really one of the
most important things to winning close games. That's why
it's important as a coach to go over late game
situations. For example, yesterday in practice we put
1:00 minute up on the clock and we were ahead 74-70. We
really had to work at making sure that we don't turn the
ball over and that we get the ball to the right person
in those situations.
Defensively, probably the only thing you can do in that
situation is go with your best defensive lineup. Even if
it means taking your best offensive players out of the
game, even if it means taking you best big man out of
the game, you probably have to go with your best
defensive lineup. That way switching on screens is more
effective because you never end up with a weak defender
on a good player. You're probably going to have to do
some switching and denial and trapping to create
turnovers and get -- or keep -- the ball out of the best
player on the opposite team's hands.
The only other thing you can do with guarding the best
foul shooter or decision maker on the other team is to
trap them as soon as they get the ball and not foul
them. Make them pass the ball to someone else and then
foul that other person. Make it hard for the key player
to get the ball back once they pass out of the trap.
That requires a lot of work on late game situations in
Coaches as a group do not do enough of those late game
situations saying ... 'OK, we're down by 10 with two
minutes left or we're up by 2 with 30 seconds left. I
think coaches as a group need to do those kind of
things. But so many of us are so intent on making our
teams better so that we are in a position to win the
game. We spend a lot of time on making sure we can play
those first 38 minutes well and we probably don't spend
enough time on what to do in those last 2 minutes
against good competition.
THE BASELINE: The end lines of the basketball court.
THE PAINT: Also referred to as THE LANE, is the painted
area between the free throw (or foul) line and the end
line or baseline. Also referred to as THE POST because
it resembles the profile of a post.
THE LOW POST: That part of THE LANE which is closest to
THE HIGH POST: That part of THE LANE which is closest to
the foul line.
THE KEY: The area on the court which includes THE LANE
and the FREE THROW CIRCLE. So called because that area
looks somewhat like to a key.
THE ELBOW: The point on the court where the free throw
line intersects with one of the lane's two side lines.
THE BLOCK: A small painted block-shaped spot located
outside and on each side of THE LANE. THE BLOCK is the
first alignment mark for the positioning of rebounders
along the lane area when a foul shot is being attempted.
It is the largest mark on each side of THE LANE, is the
closest mark to the basket and is about 1/3 of the way
from the basket to the free throw line.
THE STRONG SIDE: The side of the court where the ball is
in play or where the ball handler is positioned.
THE WEAK SIDE: The side of the court opposite from the
STRONG SIDE or opposite the side of the court where the
ball handler is positioned.
THE LEFT WING: The area to left of the foul circle, as
the player faces the basket.
THE RIGHT WING: The area to right of the foul circle, as
the player faces the basket.